Friday, April 30, 2010

Celebrating ten years

This morning we had a faculty meeting, and much to my surprise I was given an award for ten years service: much to my surprise, because I have been in the department for somewhat longer than that.  Apparently the certificate had been hiding (with several similar certificates) in the department for three years.

Yours, thinking my total salary averages to much more if it is divided by 10 than by 13,

Off to the beach!

We're off today for three nights at a cabin by a beach --- but not, unfortunately a beach by the ocean.  Nonetheless, it should be lovely: we're staying in a state park, in a cabin by the lake.  Looking forward to a few days of gentle isolation from the world, to decompress, relax and recover!

Yours, relaxing at last,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Final exams

One of my courses was a little strange: it met during two different time periods.  This is not a huge issue for most of the semester, but since final examination times are scheduled according to when the course meets, this meant that there were two times when I could schedule the examination.  I announced this multiple times over the past month --- the last five or six classes, at least.  Nonetheless, two students managed to assume that the exam would meet at the (much more inconvenient) other time.  As a consequence, because I'm so nice and forgiving, I'm having to give them the exam separately.  What a pain.

Yours, somewhat inconvenienced by this,

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A turning point today

I suspect that today, with a single, stupid bigoted comment, the UK election has turned a corner.  Now the main question may be how many Labour votes bleed to the Tories, and how many to the Lib-Dems.  My assumption, for now, is that Brown's comment today makes a Tory majority rather more likely as an outcome.

Yours, amazed at the stupidity,

A lovely memorial

We held a memorial gathering for my former student this evening: a good number of people showed up, and many of them chose to share stories of the life he led, the many ways he touched the lives of those around him.
A very touching ceremony.

Yours, in memoriam of MK,

Ben Nelson

Senator Nelson is voting against allowing debate on the Wall Street oversight bill.  Apparently this is a result of his feeling beholden to Warren Buffet.   It's been reported that Nelson and his wife own upward of $6 million in Berkshire Hathaways stock.
This begs a simple question.  What the F**K is a senator doing owning that much stock in a single entity?  How much stock does he own in other entities?
Even if this was the only investment he had, $6 million in once company is a crazy invitation to "don't you dare vote against this company".

Yours, in disbelief,

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I sense a disturbance in the force

I've long felt that my department has been an extraordinarily well tempered group, speaking politely to each other, behaving well, and generally acting by consensus.  I've known departments where this is not the case, and hated being a part of them.

But today I heard that my department has now made a couple of really strange decisions over the past few weeks, and it's disturbing.

Yours, N.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Our town had had, for the past ten or twelve years, a "Leadership" group: each year ten to twenty people get together once a week to learn about the community, touring schools and waste plants, discovering the history and the geography, and generally, learning how to be engaged in the place we live.
LOML and I took the program eight years ago, and tonight we went along to the annual dinner -- delicious barbecue, courtesy of a local restaurant, plus a lot of other good food --- to celebrate this year's participants.  A fun evening, and a reminder that one of the benefits of living in a small town is that everyone can join in and really see themselves making a difference.
And LOML managed to arrange that all the plates and cutlery etc were recycled! 
Yours, going green with LOML,

Sunday, April 25, 2010


The children have been going to gymnastics now for many years --- in Skibo's case, since he was still in utero, and in Boo's case since she was able to walk.  This afternoon was the annual show, a hundred or two children, of varying abilities and ages, tumbling, spinning, balancing...
It's sad to think that this may be the final time that Skibo does gymnastics: he's very resistant to the idea of continuing.  Boo is frequently resistant to the idea of actually going to her lessons, but she's expressing an interest in keeping going; Skibo insists that he's done with it.  Such a shame.
But we don't want to force him into something he really doesn't want to do.

Yours, still sad I didn't get to do this sort of thing thrumptysevix years ago,

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How do we die now?

I've been wondering how we die in the modern age.  Specifically, those of us who have a facebook presence, or are signed up with twitter, or one of the other social media sites that have come to prominence in the last few years: after we, as people, die, and those who love us come to terms with our death, what happens then to our online personae?
It has become clear to me this week that comments on a wall can alert a lot of people to the demise of the owner of the wall.  For how long will facebook allow the wall to stand, with the multitude of memories, reminiscences and goodbyes inscribed there?  Will they choose to let it stay forever?  Or for a year?  Or only until they discover that he is dead?

Yours, saddened by the death, and curious to see how the social media sites handle the conundrums,

Friday, April 23, 2010

A few chickens short of a checkup....

LOML and I would love to have a few chickens: the idea of using freshly laid eggs on a regular basis is lovely.  Unfortunately our local town has an ordinance banning the keeping of livestock -- including poultry -- within the town limits.  As such, we'll be unable to participate in Sue Lowden's proposal for fixing health care in the US.
Mind you, given this converter, and the fact that there are four of us in the family, it looks as though even if they allowed me to have a few chickens I'd still have to sign off,

Yours, a few chickens short of a checkup,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Republican health care proposal

A couple of weeks ago, a suggestion was made by a republican candidate running to face Senate Majority leader Harry Reid that the answer to rising health care costs was for people to return to bartering with the doctor.

Most everybody back then assumed that she was mis-speaking, and instead was offering up the slightly less ridiculous suggestion that people haggle with their doctors to get the prices down.  Today, however, she reiterated her suggestion, making it clear that she's suggesting offering chickens for checkups.  Now, I don't know how much she thinks a checkup costs, or how much a chicken is worth, and I suspect that she hasn't thought through the complexity of delivering enough chickens to enough interested parties for an expensive procedure, say bypass surgery.  Or even the fact that most people don't have things to barter that doctors are going to want.  That's why we have money, to enable us to avoid having to find a doctor who will take a chicken for an operation.  Absolutely.  Crazy.

Yours, too chicken to go to the doctor,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

According to the University of Oregon

According to a survey of undergraduates at the University of Oregon, math majors were the ones with the highest math SAT scores (high school standardized test scores used heavily for college admissions).  They also had the highest reading scores too: some people might find this surprising, but I have long argued that one of the best predictors for success in mathematics is an ability to read well.  Assuming that the reading score actually reflects an ability to read, this is not at all surprising to me!

Yours, recognizing that being good at multiple choice tests could explain this too....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fifteen years ago today

we learned that the internet could transmit information in a manner to which we were not accustomed.  It's my first memory of learning details of a developing news crisis via the internet.
168 people died that day, hundreds more were injured, and the nation and the world were horrified.  The Oklahoma bombing was horrific: may there be no more in its wake.

Yours, remembering,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sad days

It's been a rough few weeks at work: first, a graduate student died rather suddenly (he'd had an operation on his knee, and got a clot which travelled to his lungs): next a (young-ish) colleague had a stroke, from which we are all hoping he will recover: then this afternoon, I heard that an undergraduate with whom I had worked quite closely over the past few years --- he was now a graduate student elsewhere --- was cycling to work this morning and was hit by a truck.
I'm not a superstitious type, but it would be nice if this stretch of bad happenings only came in threes.

MK: in memoriam,

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Watching from a distance

Watching from afar, it's not a satisfying viewpoint.  I'd love to be able to be there in the UK this month, analysing every little point, arguing the details of poll boosts, whether the Lib Dems have done themselves enough favours to make a difference (from here, I've not even seen the debate, I've only read about it), whether the Tories can hold Labour back to a minority government, or even take a bigger share of the seats themselves...

But I'm at a distance, and can only enjoy vicariously.

Yours. l'etranger,

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The lovely thing (as I have probably mentioned before, perhaps way too often!) about living in a small town, is that you get to know lots of people.
This morning, while Boo was off at a Girl Scout daisies meeting, LOML, Skibo, and various other friends got together with the rest of the town to have a community health and heritage walk: not far (though it felt further than the two miles or so it claimed -- a couple of the hills were steep) but lots of fun.  It was a collaboration between a university class and a local town community group, and it was a lovely event.
Then this evening, we we went to have dinner with our veterinary friends, who have a practice in town, although they live a little way away.  Lovely people, a great house, with a swimming pool, a hot tub, and land like you wouldn't believe. 
We lack a lot in not having our families live nearby, but we do make up for a little of it by having some lovely community spirit....

Yours, celebrating community,

Friday, April 16, 2010

No t-shirts...

It was way too much to hope for, of course, that the t-shirts would be here by today.  I did hope, but in vain:-)
On the other hand, I did excel with pizza this evening: I stretched the dough out before its first rise, and then just pressed it down, didn't shape it again before topping and baking.  And it was good.

Yours, kneading to let you know this,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The T-shirts are on their way!

After several days, the T-shirts have now shipped: I'm hoping that they will be here in just a couple of days...  looking forward to doing a little self-promotion:-)

Yours, unworthy,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Tonight I went to a Sigma Xi banquet --- as one of the winners of the recent art contest, for which I received a nice certificate, together with a gift certificate for a local framing store (which I will probably give to the undergraduate with whom I constructed the piece).
A very pleasant evening, hanging out with entomologists and engineers, scientists and sceptics.  I took paper with me (of course!) and folded during dinner: all of the pieces went home with people, none left to litter the tables.

Yours, enjoying the scientific diversity,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A new design

I decided today to try to fold a rat --- without too much success:  I thought that I could take the bird base that I've used for the T-Rex, and modify it to make a rat, but so far the results have been disappointing.
So I started folding Joisel's rat, for inspiration: this is a model I've not folded before, and unfortunately I only got a few steps in before it was time to leave for dinner -- our regular Tuesday dinner at E&G's house.  I didn't take the diagrams along, but I did take paper: and I started folding the sequence but couldn't remember how it went.
So I continued just playing with the first few folds, experimenting with it, and discovered to my delight that it could be turned, relatively easily, into a standing model.  Of a flasher.  Not nude, clothed, but with a prominent protrusion below waist level.  I may have to try to fold it again.  Or completely forget about it!

Yours, creatively,

Monday, April 12, 2010

Barter? Haggle? Bargain? Huh?

It appears that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's opponent in November wants him to get some early gifts.  She apparently believes that health care costs can be held down if people "barter".

Oops.  Her bad.  In a subsequent correction, she actually meant "haggle" instead of barter.  A shame.  I was looking forward to finding out how many origami dinosaurs a check-up would cost.  Now I'm going to have to go from doctor to doctor explaining that the first doctor would have done it for 113 dinosaurs: how many would the second be willing to do it for?

It is conceivable, just possible, that some aspect of bargaining, haggling could have a small impact on prices for non-emergency care.  However, the bigger effect is much more likely to be keeping people away from checkups, thereby increasing the need for emergency procedures later.

And for emergency care, one's not going to have the opportunity to shop around for a cheaper doctor while suffering a heart attack.

What an idiot.  It's seriously scary that the voters of Nevada currently look to be poised to elect her.

Yours, not willing to haggle on this issue.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I was informed, this afternoon, by a former student of mine, that a company is selling a t-shirt emblazoned with a theorem of mine (more properly, a combinatorial object used in giving a beautiful proof of a long known theorem).  This appeared in a paper ten years ago (almost to the day), and has become known by names of me and my co-author on the paper: we didn't name it after ourselves, but others have since chosen to do so.
But, my goodness, what an incredible ego-stroke, to have somebody emblazon a t-shirt with an object others have chosen to name after you!

Yours, chuffed,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another lovely day...

Another lovely day: we went to a birthday party for Boo and Skibo's friend E: outside in lovely 70's weather, nice people, good food, sangria.  A very pleasant time had by all.

Yours, not going on the slip'n'slide with the children, though,

Friday, April 9, 2010

Internal conflict

I admit to a problem.

I love the fact that Boo is a superb reader.  And I love the fact that she wants to read in bed.  Both LOML and I have a history of reading under the covers by flashlight when we were little (although at least in my case, I was probably a year or two older than Boo is now when I did so).

I actually don't really mind her reading at night: but how do we persuade her that she needs to go to sleep, rather than reading until 11? 

Yours, proud of a reader, worried about a not-enough-sleeper,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Two weeks to go in this semester

Only two more weeks to go.  As much as I've been away this semester, it still feels like it's been a long one.  I'm ready for exams to be over and the classes to be done.

Yours, tired,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

16 hour days

I hate sixteen hour days.  But fortunately, they only happen once a year or so.
And the reason for the last three hours was that I needed to supervise the rowing club elections:  a duty that I've taken on gladly as part of my role as faculty advisor. 
My real day was much shorter: even with an extra meeting schedule at the end of the day,  I was still home less than 11 hours after I left for work.

Yours, close to ready for bed: but first I need to decompress...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring break

Since the children are out of school this week, and I don't teach on Tuesdays, I decided that I'd stay away from work today: we took the children to the local museum for people their age (when I say local, I mean 40 minutes from here, but it's a pretty easy drive, so let's call it local).
It made for a lovely day (all except the final few minutes when Boo insisted to LOML amd to me that she wouldn't leave without a gift from the gift store.  Finally we threatened to carry her out, and she left, protesting loudly and making us both embarrassed.
We finished the day with the Tuesday Spaghetti Club at E&G, M&A's.  Their tradition is really growing on me: it's a nice fixture in the week to know that we'll be going over there for dinner.

Yours, celebrating the children's spring break week in a day,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Just few more weeks to go

Just a few more weeks of this semester to go, and then I get a couple of weeks break.  Which makes it seem rather ridiculous that the children are now on their spring break, and my spring break was only a couple of weeks or so ago.  It would be nice if my break and that of the children coincided: since they don't, I'm skipping out of work tomorrow to take them to the nearby children's museum: it's been open for six months or so, and we've heard great things about it, but haven't made it to visit yet.  Unfortunately, LOML will be busy with other obligations and will be unable to visit with us.

Yours, looking to have some hands-on fun,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter dinner

As a heathen, I choose to celebrate Easter with non-heathens, and fit within their world view for a few days.  The children hunt for easter eggs and other candy, and we cook a feast.
I refrain from roasting the easter bunny, cooking duck, or even lamb.  Instead, today (thanks to a special at the local supermarket) we had standing rib roast with yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and various vegetables.  Enjoyed by all!

Yours, deciding not to ham it up this time,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rowing redux

This has been the weekend of rowing.  After my foray into a boat last evening, this morning I took the little ones down to the lake to watch the local regatta.  We only stayed a couple of hours --- they have limited patience for these sorts of things --- but we enjoyed the time we spent there.
Later (after Skibo had managed to fall and skin his knee, leading to all sorts of fuss) we sat and watched the blues row: and to my great pleasure, the light blues took it this year:-)  The boat race has been a fixture on my calendar for close to forty years --- way before I went there --- and it was lovely to see Cambridge come back from behind, in a very good race.

Yours, remembering being a rower,

Friday, April 2, 2010

First time in ****ty years

For the first time in something like twenty years, I went out in a rowing shell this afternoon.  The club for which I act as faculty advisor is having a regatta tomorrow, and asked parents and friends of the crew to try rowing.  I finally decided to participate (I'd come close a few times, having fully intended to do so in 2007, until I broke my arm six weeks before the event).
It was fun -- perhaps a little less fun than I'd anticipated, for somewhat complicated reasons that I won't go into, but still fun.  Mind you, now my thighs are letting me know that I am not used to this!   Serious aches going on!

Tomorrow morning I take the children to watch the regatta for a couple of hours or so, and then trek home to watch the big race on BBCAmerica.

Yours, cheering the light blues on,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another way to have a lovely day

Another lovely evening: we are outdoing ourselves!  This evening started with the meet and greet at the art exhibit (in which my student and won second prize overall for our origami/3-d printer sculptures: we thought that this was amusing, given that there had only been one entry and we had won second prize (sort of like the old Monopoly card!) until we discovered that the judging was not by category but was for the entire exhibition!
We followed this up with a visit to the Japanese restaurant which we visit whenever we want a lovely dinner, together with K&K, and LOML's friend E: as always the food was wonderful --- the service was good, but not as great as usual --- and the company made the evening.
We finished up, on the drive home, by singing along, all four of us, with Zoe Lewis' song "Squid".  It was magical, hearing both children singing at the top of their voices (along with LOML and me)
Let's go squidding, with the grandpas and boys
I'm really not kidding, it's one of summertime's joys
I've got ink on my hands, and a jig on the line, 
And enough in my bucket for dinnertime
Let's go squidding, with the grandpas and boys

For those who are wondering, I do have a lot of other music.  And I listen to it a lot.  But I love sharing this music:-)

Yours, wondering if I can make it four days in a row,

Never too old

Having reached the last year of my forties, that is, having reached my fiftieth year, I'm beginning to not feel old.  One of the things that's helping me to do this is a song by Zoe Lewis, Never Too Old To Be Young.  It's also got subliminal messages that one should do more origami.

Ladies and gentlemen 
That's a good start.  Inclusive.
Listen to this message if you would
Okay.  I'm listening.
Life is so full or creases
First subliminal origami message
That's why I think wrinkles are very good
(I've produced a few wrinkles in paper when my origami doesn't turn out.)
Well it is most imperative to have a little joyfulness each day
So don't stop playing just cos you grow old
Or you'll grow old because you stop to play!
This, of course, is why I still do origami...
'Cause you're never, no you're never, no you're never,
no you're never too old to be young
When you're halfway through, you're just begun,
You're never too old to be young.
I've got students volunteering at an old-folks home who are going to teach octogenarians some simple folds...
When they tell you to act your age,
they're obviously lacking in expertise,
Can't they see it doesn't matter
Unless you're a bottle of wine or a piece of cheese
So when those twilight years smile down like diamonds on you
Please remember when you think you've done it all
You're going to always find something new.
Especially if you have people like Lang, Montroll, and others designing new things all the time.
'Cause you're never, no you're never,  no you're never
no you're never too old to be young
There's a million songs to be sung, 
And a similar number models to be folded...
You're never too old to be young.

Everybody, if you are wise
You can have whatever you visualize 
In fact, this is true: you can fold just about anything....
If you believe it, you really can
Be like Peter Pan.

'Cause you're never no you're never, no you're never, no you're never
No you're never too old to be young
From the age of three until a hundred and one
Well, I think that three is a little young for origami, but not by much
You're never too old to be young.

Well you're never, no you're never, no you're never
No you're never too old to be young
When you're half way through you've just begun
There are a bunch of origami models where this last line is really true!
You're never too old to be young.

Never, never, never, never, never, never,....

Yours, finding folding inspiration everywhere,

Happy (?) April Fools Day

I remember some wonderful stories growing up: Panorama's (or other show?) wonderful documentary about spaghetti trees, and the Grauniad's brilliant travel section on the island of San Serif come to mind.
So, on this day, keep an eye out for tricks and lies, and if you have a particularly good one, share it:-)

Yours, completely serious for once (it's my contrary nature),